Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Back in the Squirrel's Nest

My little squirrel, my 14 year old Ally, has been busy in her nest again. We created the nest this summer and I am resigned to it being a permanent home for all of her sewing enterprises. I freely admit that when it is tidy, it is a pretty little space. She's been sewing Christmas gifts, and making cards, and stitching owl bags (all available in her Etsy shop - Simplysquirrel).

Ally's latest set of owl bags, like the one pictured above, are my all time favorites. We washed and semi-felted a thrifted, plus-size, wool skirt. I say "we" because Ally still calls me in for help and advice. But the combination of colors on the owl against that dark green background leaves me smitten. Ally has sold one, to her grandma. (Does a sale to a grandmother count?)

Ally finished her last project and giddy, the way you can only be giddy when you are 14, announced that now she had time to sew a dress just for fun. Off she went to cut and stitch, reading her pattern all by herself. Well, by herself until it was time to attach the sleeves then she needed a bit of help. Sleeves are tricky. But I can't tell you how many days I despaired; it seemed that girl would never be able to read a pattern. Let that be a lesson to you; hang on.

Dress photos to follow soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

His Praise in My Mouth

I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; the humble shall hear it and rejoice. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:1-3
Friday morning, after our day of thanks, my brother was in my mom's kitchen. I don't know if anyone was listening, but he was listing things for which he was thankful. I caught the tail end of his list and couldn't resist teasing him.

"You silly, you can't be thankful today, that was yesterday."

Thanks-giving limited to just one day seems trite. At all times I will bless the Lord: Thursday, Friday and Monday morning.

Ours was a weekend for celebrating the gifts from God's own hand. There were long talks on the couch. We drank countless cups of tea. The kids built a fort in the woods, with a throne of moss, a wall woven of sticks, and rock lined pathways; all with the help of grown-up aunts and uncles. There was home brewed cappuccino. The turkey was moist (you never know) and there was too much pumpkin pie. We played out the annual cribbage tournament, and some (always ready for fun) added a chess tournament. There was boasting over who could win it all in a ping-pong tournament, but the bracket was never drawn up; games were played just for fun, just for bragging rights. There was football and soccer. There were walks in the autumn sun. There was the blessing of an extended family that took up three rows at church on Sunday morning. It was Thanksgiving indeed.

And I hope it was for you also. Thanksgiving indeed. At all times.

With all my heart my thanks I'll bring, before the gods Thy praises sing; I'll worship in Thy holy place and praise Thy name for truth and grace. Psalm 138:1-2, The Book of Psalms for Singing

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Sweet, Small Gift

Kara and I made vanilla sugar to share over the holidays. Happily both sugar and canning jars were on sale. Fabric, paper, and raffia I had "in stock." And a kind friend shared her circle punch.

We simply snipped off one end, cut up the vanilla bean pod, and scooped out the sticky seeds. Then I put the seeds in the food processor with about half a cup of sugar, to break them apart. We put the leftover bean pod in the jar, added the sugar from the processor, and filled it to them brim with regular sugar. We periodically stopped to shake along the way. This is no exact science, and not terribly time consuming, just a bit of careful work.

I reminded Kara again and again the sticky brown seeds she was scraping out of the pod were like gold. Gold smeared all over those helpful little fingers. Be careful, honey. Oh, I am mama, I am.

The kitchen smelled heavenly, vanilla-y, as we made one sweet, small gift for giving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Deceitful Heart

Our family is memorizing James 1 right now. I guess the benefit of memorizing is that you can carry the Word around with you, like pulling a scripture card out of the pocket of your mind. I find myself mulling over one phrase, not even a verse, just a phrase, for days. Is it meditating on scripture when you're also chopping carrots, or driving the car, or raking leaves? I think it pleases God when our mindless tasks give us a quiet moment to be mindful of the Living God.
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.  James 1:26
This week I kept coming back to the question, am I deceiving my own heart? James says we can do it, we can deceive our own hearts.
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind....   Jeremiah 17:9-10
I am dependent upon the grace of God. I am dependent upon the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. I am dependent upon the searching work of the Holy Spirit leading my heart to truth.
 Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Book of Man by William Bennett

Out of heroism grows faith in the worth of heroism.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

We want our Little Men to have heroes. Heroes of faith are best of all, but men of good character and strong moral attributes can also teach our sons. I sought, and found, in The Book of Man a celebration of goodness, bravery, sacrifice, love, service, and excellence.  

But the book isn’t written for boys, not by any means. The selections are so well chosen, ranging from Classical Greek authors, to the well-educated English man, and on to the thoughtful American, that the book is intended for men, young and old. My husband plans to read it next, then share it with the boys, and I suppose the girls will listen in too. My boys will enjoy sitting beside their Dad (their very own flesh and blood hero), hearing him read. The words are highly quotable and printed in short sections well suited to reading aloud.

We don’t agree with every writer, I doubt anyone would. Particularly in the section on prayer and reflection the book is intended to appeal to a wide audience. For example, prayers of Luther are printed facing the prayer of Thomas More; and prayers of Jimmy Carter precede one by Ronald Reagan. I would recommend caution; teach your children your own heroes of the faith.

The Book of Man has its place: provoking thought, and ideally, also actions. I hope my Little Men are challenged not only by presidents and poets but by the sanitation engineer and computer programmer as well. I hope they become men who deserve a page in this kind of book.

Full disclosure per The Rules:
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Sneeze: Gesundheit!

Have you heard of Book Sneeze? They offer a free book to bloggers in return for a review. I am a constant reader, except during my last pregnancy when I needed sleep, constantly. But that was a long time ago. Now I would blush if I told you how many books in progress I have sitting beside my bed. So I couldn't resist the offer of a free book.

I thought the review would be easy, after all I am opinionated. Then I realized how woefully dull most book reviews are; is it the nature of a book review? I would hate to bore you. I tried, this morning to write a really good book review. It was full of facts and information. I presented it to Bryan. The verdict? Boring.

And so tonight I have tried again. I have a nagging suspicion it's just not right. Bryan is not home to rescue you. You must endure.

Yes, I read the book, every word. Yes, I wrote a review, two in fact. I plan to do it all over again and bore you in the future. Unless it's not in the nature of a book review to be boring, then perhaps, in time, we will muddle our way through to something better.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One Sum of Two Versus Another

 This was Arden's math lesson, observed throughout by a gallery of "friends." Snake was highly involved in the learning process. Baby Hippo was, perhaps, too young and somewhat left out.

Arden was adding two to a number, using the flashcards from the Saxon 1 textbook. We're intentionally using the workbook less. Fine motor skills don't suit this five year old. Playing with numbers is always fun.

Each pair of cards set up another battle scenario. 5+2 versus 7+2. The casual observer may have thought the opposing forces rather similar, but don't rely on casual observation. It turns out one pack of army men may come in two slightly different shades of green. A five year old boy understands; they are enemies but may reach an uneasy truce and sign a Treaty of Mutual Assistance, when faced with a greater foe.

We worked through the deck of flashcards once, every soldier counted, every battle fought. I fought my own battle with patience. Then we zipped through those cards two more times. Arden knew his facts.

Math is different every day (not for my child plodding through Algebra, but Kindergarten...certainly). Arden usually has his own manipulatives close at hand. Pirates from the pirate ship. Or today, Lord of the Rings Risk pieces playing football. Lord of the Rings/Risk/football became so complicated I could barely keep up (that's how I usually feel at sporting events), but Arden kept on, fearlessly adding one score to another.

Math mastery one plastic soldier or two plastic Orcs at a time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On My Trail: Foods We Eat

Here are a few new recipes we've enjoyed around our table recently. I love new recipes. We probably average a new recipe at least once a week, and sometimes I try a whole slew of them in a row. It keeps both cooking and eating fun. We rarely go out to eat, new foods keep it interesting. Although these are all healthier recipes, we're by no means health-nuts, just sort-of-healthy eaters. I just don't want you to be fooled or think I'm deceiving you. I love a bowl of ice cream more than the next girl.

Peter Reinhart's Crushed Tomato Pizza Sauce is my new go-to sauce recipe. It's quick and easy. No fancy ingredients for us, plain old tomatoes from the grocery store seem to work fine. I admit, I often cheat and just buzz diced tomatoes I have on hand in the cuisinart (works better if you drain the juice). I do usually choose fresh garlic; I am a garlic nut. His napoletana crust is also yummy, but requires planning waaay ahead, something I can't seem to do.

Heidi Swanson's Baked Quinoa Patties were surprisingly satisfying. In the process Ally discovered she loved quinoa and ate it warm right out of the pan. Last night I discovered my kale had gone bad, a stinky surprise, so I chose carrots as an "in a pinch substitute," and the patties still tasted good. In order not to deceive you, I'll tell you that I eat them plain but I let my kids eat them on white hamburger buns complete with condiments. That way we're all happy.

Again, from 101 Cookbooks, Nikki's Healthy Cookies were a big hit with the kiddy crowd, especially when they were approved not only for dessert but also for snack food. We had to make them nut free, no almond meal at our house, so I used whole wheat flour and that worked well. As I formed the balls to bake them I also thought coconut oil solidifies so well, they might work as a raw cookie, if you just left out the baking powder, so I tried putting a few in the fridge. They turned out solid, but did taste...well...raw. I've been on a casual look out for no-bake cookies sans nut butters for years now, so if you know of one, please share your recipe!

Finally, we tested several chimichurri sauces this last week. Chimichurri is, I guess, like an Argentinian salsa. I'd never had it before, but it's good. This was my favorite, chunky and fresh tasting. I used it tonight in a batch of black beans we ate over rice, and it gave the beans a huge depth of flavor. The first night we ate it on steak, and since have been using it instead of salsa on burritos for lunch (just in case you lack creativity and are wondering what on earth to do with this stuff). This one was Bryan's favorite, blended to a creamy green sauce, and no onions.

We're trying to eat light before the Thanksgiving food fest. Unfortunately the apples from the orchard are getting a little old and I'm afraid I must make crisp tomorrow. And who can eat apple crisp without ice cream?

Monday, November 14, 2011

God's Will

Here is Saturday's post on Monday. Saturday I encountered technical difficulties, and when there are difficulties I usually quit. One of my many character flaws.

This weekend I read Hebrews 5, in the regular course of things, and paused long over verses 7-8. They were the subject of my thoughts all weekend. I turned the pages back to those verses again and again. Hebrews 5 says, speaking of Jesus Christ,
In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
Do you, like me, have prayers God does not seem answer? The old Sunday School lesson tells us God answers "yes, wait, and no;" it may be true but isn't always very comforting when you are waiting through a long no. Here is Christ praying with prayers and tears, and He was heard. The Bible is clear. He was heard. But Jesus did suffer, did die, did endure the wrath of the Father. Only then, as one commentator pointed out, was His prayer answered, God did not abandon Him to the grave. Christ prayed, and died, and learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (There are a whole host of theological questions here I would not dare to answer, I'm just working from the words in the text.)

Am I above my Savior? When I pray and am heard, am I willing to learn obedience through suffering both slight and great? I often struggle with God, praying again and again, over my trifling difficulties. I don't want Christ-likeness, I want visible answers and I want them now. My Sovereign God wants obedience.

As Spurgeon says I am more like a crying, fretting, rebelling child. God desires my prayers, He desires all wishes laid at Jesus' feet, He hears. And He desires me to say, "Not my will, but Yours be done."

We cannot say, with David, “My soul is even as a weaned child.” Many of us are more like a weaning child, crying, fretting, rebelling. We have not laid all our wishes at Jesus’ feet and said to Him, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” But it is essential that we should come to this point—we would not be fit for Heaven if we did not, for all the spirits before the Throne of God bow submissively to the will of God. They have neither wish nor desire apart from God’s will. They have no wandering ambitions, no selfish aims. Their every thought is brought into captivity to the will of God. Let us pray for this— “Your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. And let it be done in our hearts, good Lord, or else we shall never be fit to enter there.

*C.H. Spurgeon,  The Education of the Sons of God

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good Play

A few, a very few, of the photos "found" on my camera.

Do you know Robert Louis Stevenson's poem "A Good Play?" My kids pick other poems from A Child's Garden of Verses to memorize, though I push for that one.  Maybe it's because the poem reminds me of the hours I spent playing on the stairs as a child. They were old, dangerous stairs, that wrapped around a corner and the treads narrowed to an inch at one end, perfectly suited for building doll houses on the stairs.

"We built a ship upon the stairs
All made of the back-bedroom chairs,
We sailed along for days and days,
And had the very best of plays;"

Quintessential childhood is that Good Play that extends through any number of days, always being added to and changing, and compulsively played. That's what my kids have been doing here these past few weeks. First train tracks for days, then Playmobile for days and days, then animals, then Legos. Pressed by the need for convenience they moved all those toy sets out of the bedroom to the living room and I endured it knowing they were having a Good Play. Pressed by the need for order and a little beauty, we moved a dresser into the living room (to hold the toys,of course) and reorganized all the furniture.

This morning they are all in the living room before breakfast, sun shining bright through the curtains, organizing all those dresser drawers. And arguing, just a little; another quintessential activity of childhood.

Monday, November 7, 2011


My brother tells me I've been slacking lately on this blog. I know. I'll's hard for me. I almost always have something to say, that's not a problem. No, the problem is every post takes a long time. If you are an English teacher, a grammarian, or even literate, you will find what I write hard to believe. But this is true, entirely true.

I sit down to type, and begin right away. When you don't know how to start just start, right? I finish a paragraph, then think it could be said better. I begin to edit. Type, edit. Type, edit. Strive for clarity. Be concise, how many words can I eliminate? Rewrite. Read the entire post. Edit. Hit "preview," begin to tally on my fingers how many changes I should make. When I hit five (the limit of my memory) I come back to the post and...edit. Preview, edit. Read, read, edit. When I think I've finished I let Bryan read my post, but I read over his shoulder. I drive him crazy.

By the time I am done, I am in a frenzy. You see, it is hard for me. One post takes a long time. My body twitches. My finger hovers over the backspace key. From beside me Bryan blurts out,

"Just stop."

I have a lot of things to do with my life. Continuous proof-reading isn't one of them. I have made a choice to save time, to be a slacker, to aim for three posts a week. Imagine: what if I didn't have spell check?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Disproportionate Fruit

Today I shivered through soccer games. I shivered through the end of the season picnic. I made a batch of homemade hot cocoa powder, and drank three cups (I know, it's too much; I was cold). I washed two loads of laundry. I ordered Christmas presents. I wrapped presents. I made lists. I answered email. I cleaned the garbage can. I played a game with the family. I made pizza. I washed dishes. I Swiffered the floors upstairs. I gave a bath. I sent kids to the shower. I washed a dirty face. I watched Roy Rogers with the kids. I gave goodnight kisses.

In other words, today was an ordinary Saturday. Was today a wasted day? John Piper, in Taste and See, says, "Don't dream too small or pray too small about what God may do to save sinners and glorify his name in the midst of steady-state obedience." I think it was wasted only in that I both dream and pray too small.

We should not assume that nothing extraordinary will happen while we persevere in daily faithfulness. That is where God loves to act in supernatural ways. Therefore, we should pray: "O Lord, make the fruit  of our lives utterly disproportionate to the measure of our faithfulness."

Yes, Lord, fruit utterly disproportionate to the measure of my faithfulness and help me to persevere. Help me to assume You will do the extraordinary in me, through me, and around me.

*John Piper, Taste and See: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life, pg. 378

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Kara taught her big sister, Ally, a Bible lesson while the little Singer hummed. A Bible lesson on Jonah, taught by the one who loves to lecture and is always thankful for an audience.

Kara caught me in the bedroom beforehand, needing a little clarity. "How does that song from the Jonah movie go?" We had just watched Jonah the other night. You can sing it if you've seen the movie: compassion and mercy.

"What does mercy mean?" I ask Kara. "A second chance," she shoots back. "God forgives us and gives us a second chance." "What if I mess up again? And again? And again?" I'm pushing her, pushing her, pushing her. "You know I will because God wants me to be perfect and I'm just going to keep messing up. What then?"

We volley ideas back and forth, until I see the look of uncertainty on her face. Desperation. That look is just what I was waiting to see. We have a problem, a sin problem. An infinite number of "chances" won't make us right with God.

Kara could perfectly echo the message of Veggie Tales Jonah. But subtly, ever so subtly, the message of Jonah isn't enough. Phil Vischer knows. He gave an interview to World Magazine and said, "I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, "Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so," or "Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!" But that isn't Christianity, it's morality." (World Magazine, September 24, 2011)

 I have a problem. I believe in a God of impossibly high standards. But my God of impossible holiness is also a God of impossible grace. He doesn't give me a second chance to get it right, He makes me right  in Christ. He gives mercy then pours on grace. Impossible grace.

When I sin again and again and again, I need Christ. 

I need Christ again and again and again.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Reading Lesson

Fifteen quick minutes of fun.

Arden's reading has now progressed to the point at which we can swap the vowels in and out of one syllable words: hat, het, hit, hot, hut, as you see here. When we come to a non-sense syllable I just tell Arden, this isn't a real word, this is just a silly sound but lets practice saying it. He's five. He knows a lot of silly sounds.

There we were, at the white board. After he read the word hat, I drew the first little green hat on the top of the "h." From then on Arden was busy adding irresistibly cute faces to each vowel, and  hats, because that's what started it all. Then the "u" needed some sort of shelter from the elements, naturally it was a hut. It's so fun to see what he creates once we get started.

Then I was done. Fifteen minutes or less. Stop while he's still interested. In fact, he drew a few more pictures on the board, by himself, before he wandered away. Today I read (in Why Johnny Still Can't Read) that adding pictures to a reading text actually distracts a child from the task at hand, reading, and doesn't add to their comprehension level. There may be no educational advantage to drawing hats and smiley faces in the vowels, but it sure is fun.